Monthly Archives: July 2014

It’s Not Goodbye, but See You Later…

I’ve never been one for goodbyes over the years, so I will leave you with a blog of hope that one day we will see each other again. We might be working together away from Blackboard or maybe one day I will come back. I just don’t know…What I do know is that for this blog I’m going to cover some parting words that hopefully will resonate with my reading audience. I’m hoping it will ignite some kind of spark and make an impact on the future.


When I started the Performance Engineering team in the fall of 2003, I set out on a mission to make Blackboard the fastest performing, most scalable e-Learning software platform in the world. I wanted us to be the benchmark in the software space, where companies look at us lovingly in the distance with deep admiration and respect. That leads me to my first major point…


1) Set high expectations for yourself and your teammates…Do what you can to achieve them.


There were a lot of things I wanted to accomplish when I came to Blackboard, but the one thing I knew I didn’t want was to fail. I came here in my late twenties. I was a mere child in terms of professional experience. I was being entrusted to build a multi-million dollar team for a $100 million dollar company that wanted to go public and become a $1 billion dollar company.


Our CEO, Michael Chasen had high expectations for me, therefore I needed to set higher expectations for myself and the team I was building. Setting expectations is really about setting goals and then being transparent about those goals. Achieving expectations is about being both strategic and operational at the same time.

You don’t have to have 20+ years of experience to be successful in any venture. You have to be smart, committed and resilient. The smarts come from planning, researching and my personal favorite, continuous learning from experience. The commitment is about execution to plan, as well as a willingness to re-plan after learned mistakes. The resilience is about perseverance when times are challenging.


2) Every day is a benchmark


I wrote a blog back in June of 2007 to my team about the importance of seizing the moment. Unfortunately, the blog was internal and I never posted it. I was half correct with the blog. The part I nailed was the part that insisted every day is a chance to start over. Every day is a chance for a new beginning.


I missed an essential part which looking back could have and should have fundamentally changed our team’s purpose. It was an aha moment that if I could do it all over again, I would totally have done it differently.


The focus of that blog was about testing and benchmarking. In 2007, we were a very good testing and benchmarking organization. Some in the industry might have said we were one of the best given our maturity, practice and tooling. We should have looked at all of that production data real-time and built an analytics engine that studied live system data. That was the real data we needed more than anything. I’m not talking volumetric sampling. I’m talking APM (Application Performance Measurement).


We should have built the collection tools and engine to process the data. That would have been disruptive. It would have been game changing. We didn’t and as a result we failed to reset expectations and learn from our past experiences.


3) We cannot change the cards we are dealt…we can change how we play the hand


I don’t know the original author of this quote. The context for me is hearing it back in 2008 watching a YouTub clip of Randy Pausch giving his famous Last Lecture. I think I watched that lecture a dozen times. I bought the book and read it over and over as well.


That quote has been in my head constantly for the last few months as I’ve been deciding whether to leave Blackboard or stick around. I’ve thought about it in the context of my 11 years here. I realized over and over again me and my teammates were dealt blow after blow. Some of those blows were good…some were bad. Rarely did anything we as a group planned happen in a natural order. More often than not we found ourselves treading water or playing a defensive game of ping pong.


We got through it all. The way we got through it all was being adaptive and willing to change our plan.


Blackboard will hopefully outlive me for many decades to come. The folks who are a part of the future, will hopefully adapt like me and my colleagues adapted over the years. Looking back, that’s what made this place so special. There was a simpatico ebb and flow to change on the fly. Hopefully the people and the company won’t forget that going forward.


– Steve Feldman

Blackboard (2003 – 2014)